Who’s Cut Out For This?


I remember when, several years ago, a group of women friends and I sat around chatting, and the conversation turned, as it often does with a group of women, to pregnancy and motherhood.  One friend in the group was recounting her amnio with her last pregnancy, telling us all how it really was no big deal.  She said, “Of course I had an amnio – I could never handle a kid with special needs.”

In this whole firestorm over the new prenatal tests aimed at detecting Down syndrome, and the ongoing debate about terminating pregnancies when a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is made, there seems to be a common refrain: “Not everyone is cut out to parent a child with special needs.”

Who is cut out to parent a child with special needs?  I can tell you that since becoming Finn’s mother, I’ve been told more times than I can shake a stick at that “special kids are given to special parents.”  I think this is a well-meaning platitude that sounds good but really doesn’t carry any weight.  I can assure you that the badge of Special Parent is only given after the fact.  I wasn’t special before Finn was born – and the truth is, I’m not special now, either.

How does one envision a person who is cut out to parent a child with special needs?  What traits and qualifications does that special parent supposedly have?

I’m just a regular girl with no special qualifications, and plenty of faults.  I’m not especially long on patience; I’m a little on the anal-retentive side; I’m a creature of habit; I value me time.  I enjoy a good book, a nice martini (when I’m not knocked up), and an occasional night out with the girls.  I think it’s important for my husband and I to have somewhat regular “date nights.”  I swear.  A lot.  I like a good dirty joke and I’m not above potty humor.

I have no special skills – nor are any required of me – to be Finn’s mom.  All that’s required is that I love him – and that’s easy.  As easy as breathing.

I know that when Finn was born and we learned that he had Down syndrome, I, too, protested: “I’m not cut out for this!”  I’m not even sure what I meant.  I’m not sure what I, at the time, thought made a person better qualified than me to have a child like Finn.

What sort of picture do people who insist they’re not cut out to parent a child with Down syndrome have of the everyday lives of families of children with Down syndrome?  I’m trying to remember what picture I may have had.  I don’t think I really had a particular picture in mind, just a sense that there must be a whole lot of sadness and sacrifice involved.

That’s not what our life looks like in reality, though.  Our family life really hasn’t changed at all since Finn was born.  Michael and I still have date nights, we have two wonderful babysitters who adore Finn and have no qualms about sitting for him and the other kids.  We still do Little League and gymnastics and swim lessons.  We still take the kids out to dinner and ice cream once in a while, we’ve managed a couple of family road trips, we go to the park and we have picnics.  We crank up the stereo and have dance parties in the living room after dinner.  We laugh.  A lot.  We have a busy, raucous house.  Finn hasn’t changed that; he’s only added to every aspect of our family life.

What are any of us really cut out for, anyway?  Life lobs so many curveballs at each of us over the course of our lives.  How many things have you already stood up to and discovered that, yeah, you actually can do this – things you never dreamed you were cut out for?  What would life be like if we all could opt out of every challenge or unexpected event that landed on our doorstep?  Do we avoid the things in life that teach us, that expand us as human beings, that show us what we’re really made of just because those things do not fit into the plan we had for ourselves?  And if so, what does that say about us?

Something to think about.

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9 Comments on “Who’s Cut Out For This?”

  1. Holly F.
    March 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    I think you are one of my new favorite bloggers Lisa.

    I see it like this: When you are in the midst of “it” (whatever “it” may be) what else are you going to do but GO THROUGH IT? Bury your head in the sand and say “I can’t do this.”? Nope, you find the strength to do it. Whether it is battling cancer, the death of a loved one, having a child with special needs, or being a POW. You just do it. And after awhile, you find that you are stronger and smarter than you thought. But you still aren’t more special than anyone else, you’ve just risen to meet the challenge and made the proverbial lemonade.

    Have you read the Erma Bombeck story about how God chooses a mom for a special child? (I know you are athest so you might not have.) I recommend it anyway. It starts very sappy but then God decides that the mom needs to have some selfishness and other not-so-great values, otherwise, she won’t be able to do “it.” In the end, the patron saint for the mom to pray to is in the mirror. Because while she isn’t anything special on her own, rising to the circumstances makes her powerful. It is almost a chicken or the egg scenario.

    • Lisa
      March 15, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

      I will have to look for that – Thanks, Holly!

  2. Wendie
    March 16, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    There are several things I would like to opt out of:

    1. Being diagnosed with Cancer..

    2. Watching my 47 year old Aunt die of liver cancer within 5 months of diagnosis and all the time telling me, “I don’t want to die”.. these two events have changed me and my life forever. They didn’t make me stronger.. they made me anxious and nervous and every pain I feel I think is it “Cancer” yes I am glad to be alive and I am glad that I didn’t need Chemotherapy.. but yes OPT that would be me.

    3. Watching a good friend bury her (3) year old son who died in their back yard from drowning in their pool.

    Yes, we go on and live.. making us stronger.. I don’t see it.. I see worry, anxiety, a rollercoaster of a life ahead of emotions that I didn’t want or need.

  3. Asha
    March 16, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    I do not have a child with special needs, but never in a million years did I think that I would end up with 10 kids.
    I think I would laugh at people if they told me that.
    I also hear that I am “cut out for it”. Really, I face the challenges not any more gracefully than
    anyone else. I also enjoy the fun of watching the kids interact, I marvel at all their different personalities.
    It must be the same with children with medical diagnoses?
    No mom wants to see her child in a hospital having surgery, but you get through it as best as you can because of motherly love.
    Special needs or not, he is your beloved child and you enjoy the ups and downs of raising him with maybe a little more tenderness towards him, because he has been through a lot in his short life.

  4. Michele Zephier
    March 20, 2012 at 2:32 am #

    Thank you for this post, Lisa. I don’t believe anyone is more special for having a special needs child. I love this comeback for it: So what kind of parent does that make you?
    I haven’t used it yet, but when the right, irritating, cliche-type-parent says it to me, I’m going to unleash it.
    Your rational thinking brings joy to this reader!

  5. Natalie Nelson
    March 20, 2012 at 4:07 am #

    I remember when I first gave birth to Tily we were told that same thing many time “you are special people to have been given her”. I know they meant well but I didn’t feel like I had done or been anything special for her to come to us. And with all of the health issues we were dealing with I REALLY didn’t feel special. I kind of felt picked on to tell you the truth. I know I am no different from anyone else out there but for myself I do feel special that she loves me so much. How could I not when she show me so much unconditional love.
    Also I think people can do hard things. Harder than they think they can. They just need to take the chance.

  6. Alyson
    March 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    My least favorite ” God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” um I call bullshit. There are many days where I am definitely not “handling” things very well

  7. TUC
    March 20, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    I am cut out for this, I just didn’t know it.

  8. Suzie
    March 22, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    I remember standing in the hallway of the NICU when Lily was born speaking with other mom’s. One little guy’s intestines were malrotated more times than I can count, another had something else, and Lily was born w/o her esophagus.
    We were saying that we could handle what we were given but not what the other had been given. Why I thought that Lily not having an esophagus was going to be easier then her having something else is beyond me. We were just handed these babies with these incredible medical issues and we were all clueless. I do believe our mommy instincts kicked in and we were ready for our personal fight of keeping our baby alive and well. We were ready to learn and do what we needed to for our baby’s condition.
    Even though we adopted Lily knowing she had Ds. I was not cut out for what I was really in for until after she was placed in my arms and melted my heart. Then I was told about all her medical conditions and it was too late to give her back. I already loved her. So, I think we make ourselves “cut out” for what we have to deal with.

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